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Report: Virginia's State Lawmakers Are Accepting Fewer Gifts Than a Year Ago


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State lawmakers continue accepting fewer gifts following the ordeal of former Gov. Bob McDonnell, according to new Virginia Public Access Project data.

Seventy-four lawmakers reported taking a gift worth more than $50 between November 2015 and April, the latest reporting period. That compares with 87 lawmakers doing so during the same time frame a year earlier, according to VPAP, a drop of 15 percent.

Lawmakers acknowledge their behavior has changed following the indictment, trial and conviction of McDonnell in a scandal involving more than $170,000 in gifts and off-the-books loans from a businessman seeking state assistance. McDonnell now awaits an Aug. 29 deadline for word on whether federal prosecutors will retry him following his successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The General Assembly amended state law in 2015 to ban certain gifts over $100 annually. Exceptions include things such as a “widely attended event.” So while gift totals continue to fall, some lawmakers still like free stuff.

“We are held accountable by the newspaper and the public,” said state Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, who has accepted few gifts as a lawmaker and says he often pays the tab himself if he’s dining with lobbyists. Lawmakers “are more conscious of what they’re doing and accepting.”

DeSteph reported just one gift during the reporting period: a dinner from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in January. He was among about 40 lawmakers who reported that dinner, and such instances are a significant shift away from the past when lawmakers routinely went hunting out of state and traveled overseas on the dime of corporations and lobbyists.

Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, was one of the legislature’s top gift recipients, which became an issue in his 2015 re-election campaign. He reported no gifts in the new reporting period.

Because the new law restricting gifts went into effect in January, “the easy thing to do is just not take any and avoid the problem,” Wagner said. “It is the new world we live in.”

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